In the past, I have not written positive things in the Huffington Post about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. But I must publicly commend Trudeau for his proposal to bring greater transparency and accountability to the Canadian taxpayers and voters.
According to Althia Raj, senior Ottawa reporter for the Huffington Post, "Justin Trudeau has pledged to post online the travel and hospitality expenses of all his Liberal MPs, Senators and staff starting this fall as part of a four part plan to increase transparency in the Senate and in the House of Commons. "
"As first reported in the Huffington Post Canada, Trudeau's four point plan will give the public access to the expense claims filed by members of his caucus."
Raj goes on: "Expenses and entitlements have been a hot topic in Ottawa following the Senate expense scandal that has rocked the upper chamber and landed four senators -- Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb -- in hot water after they allegedly expensed thousands of dollars in ineligible living and travel expenses."
I must doff my frayed chapeau, to the young Trudeau. He is definitely on to something here.
All Canadians are mighty angry about how our politicians -- be they federal, provincial, or municipal -- are spending, and in some cases, abusing our hard-earned taxpayer dollars, perhaps improperly claiming expenses incurred for running their respective Parliamentary offices and local constituency offices.
I think Justin Trudeau should go several steps further. Every Federal MP in the House of Commons should post on a quarterly basis, the following: his/her salary; employees' salaries and service contracts; travel; hospitality and events; advertising; printing; and costs of the offices. And as suggested by Greg Thomas, national director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, the federal MPs should post all receipts and supporting documentation.
This calls to mind Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Although Ford has been the subject of much criticism, one area where it has been difficult to fault him is his tight office budget. For the past three years, it has been around $1.9-million. In fact, his 2013 office budget has been approved by Toronto city council for the sum of $1.9 million, allowing for 19 staff. The 2010 city office budget of Toronto mayor David Miller in his last year was $2.6 million, with the use of 23 staff. Since Ford only seems to be using about 12 staff members, his actual 2013 office budget costs may be considerably lower than $1.9-million.
Please note that Mayor Ford is the mayor of the city of Toronto, which has a current population of about 2.615 million people, spread over 630 square km. In fact, it could be argued that Ford is too stingy with his budget and should be spending more on staff and support in his office. But interestingly, as I noted in a previous article on Rob Ford, when it comes to the mayor, voters in Toronto if given the choice between a person who breaks the law and a person who wastes taxpayers' money would prefer the former to the latter.
I predict that if required, Mayor Ford would be more than happy, for the sake of transparency and public accountability, as Justin Trudeau has recommended, to post online his office budget and break it down with particulars supported by documents and receipts. In fact, I believe that it should be a precondition for any serious challenger to Rob Ford to post his/her office expenses, travel expenses, constituency expenses, housing expenses and other expenses with supporting documents and receipts.
Take for example, the NDP Federal Member of Parliament for the Toronto riding of Trinity Spadina, Olivia Chow. Ms. Chow's name has been bandied about as a possible challenger to Mayor Ford in the 2014 mayoral election. Ms. Chow is very well-known and would be a formidable opponent to Mayor Ford. She represents a federal riding with about 115,000 voters spread over about 25 square kms.
Ms. Chow is also a very principled and thoughtful politician. In view of Justin Trudeau's policy of greater transparency and accountability, it would behoove Ms. Chow to also post her office budget, employees' salaries, travel expenses, and constituency expenses for the last three years, together with supporting documents and receipts. Given that she is a person of integrity and principle, with a sincere concern for the plight of her hard-working constituents, I am sure she could account for all the expenses listed above.
Ms. Chow's total expenses as an MP for April 2011- March 2012, paid for by the Canadian taxpayers, were approximately $428,753. This amount consisted of the following major items: $227,289 for employees' salaries and service contracts; $54,245 for travel for Ms. Chow, designated traveller and dependents; $11,843 for travel for employees; $19,462 for Ms. Chow's accommodation and per diem expenses; $43,306 for Ms. Chow's constituency office, including lease and utilities; and $24,906 for printed householders.
It should be noted that although Mayor Ford represents about 23 times the voters (2.615 million vs. 115,000 voters) spread over 25 times the area as Ms Chow, Mayor Ford's budget is only 4.43 times greater than Ms. Chow's total expenses. Granted, Ms. Chow has to drive 4 hours from Ottawa to her Toronto home while Ford just has to drive 45 minutes. And Ms. Chow has the additional cost of a constituency office in her home riding. But still, Ms. Chow's total costs paid for by the taxpayers seem relatively much larger than Mr. Ford's.
I am sure Ms. Chow will have reasonable explanations for her use of all these taxpayers' money.
But superficially, Ford seems to get more bang for the buck for each Toronto voter he represents.
One of the unintended consequences of Justin Trudeau's push for greater transparency and accountability pertaining to politicians' expenses just might be that Mayor Ford will rise in voters' estimation when compared to other political opponents.
Pamela Wallin, at Tory senator from Saskatchewan, also found her expense claims under close scrutiny in Februrary when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/13/pamela-wallin-travel-expenses-harper_n_2680229.html" target="_blank">she billed taxpayers $142,190.26 for trips between March 1, 2011, and Feb. 29, 2012</a>. But only $10,551.99 of her expenses were related to travel between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, while the remaining $131,638.27 was filed under "Other." Questions were also raised about whether or not she satisfied the residency requirement needed to represent Saskatchewan in the Upper Chamber. Wallin split her time between Toronto and New York prior to being named a senator in 2008, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/senate-residency-pamela-wallin-duffy_n_2648325.html" target="_blank">does own a plot of land in the province and two properties with family members.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Patrick Brazeau first came under fire in December of 2012 amid reports he was using <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">his former father-in-law's address </a>in Maniwaki, Que., to claim a Senate housing allowance, while actually living in Gatineau, just across the river from Parliament Hill. The Senate Board of Internal Economy subsequently asked an auditor to look at Brazeau's residency claims and expenses. In early February, Brazeau was arrested and charged with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">assault and sexual assault </a>after a heated argument with his girlfriend turned violent. The charges promptly got Brazeau turfed from the Conservative caucus. On February 12, Brazeau was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/12/canadians-growing-ever-we_n_2667332.html" target="_blank">suspended indefinitely </a>from the Upper Chamber. <em>With files from CP</em>
Conservative Mike Duffy also courted controversy over his housing allowance. The P.E.I. senator <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">claimed his cottage in Cavendish as his primary residence</a> and his long-time in home in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, as a secondary residence for which he collected $33,000 in living allowances he since 2010. While always maintaining he was entitled to the compensation, Duffy <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">vowed on February 22 to repay the money</a>. He blamed the entire issue on confusing and vague Senate paperwork. <em>With files from CP</em>
Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, a Conservative senator from Quebec, came under fire in early March when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/03/pierre-hugues-boisvenu-senate_n_2803052.html?utm_hp_ref=pierre-boisvenu" target="_blank">he collected a housing allowance of $20,000 despite living little more than a drive across a bridge from Parliament.</a> Boisvenu claimed his primary residence was in Sherbrooke, but sources said he had been staying at his secondary residence in Gatineau since separating from his wife in February, 2012. Boisvenu was then forced to admit in March that he had been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">carrying on a relationship with an aide, Isabelle Lapointe</a>. The Senate ethics officer had told him last year that he couldn't have his girlfriend on the office payroll but Boisvenu ignored the warning for months. The two have since split up and Lapointe is now working elsewhere. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">Boisvenu has repaid the $900 stipend he collected while living with Lapointe for three months near Ottawa.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Liberal senator Mac Harb also had his expenses audited after it was discovered that he claimed <a href="http://metronews.ca/news/canada/560000/senate-controversy-senator-mac-harbs-home-in-the-spotlight/" target="_blank">about $40,212 in living expenses for a secondary residence in Ottawa from Nov. 30, 2010 to Nov. 30, 2012</a>. Harb, a former Ottawa MP, claims his primary residence is <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/senator-harb-rarely-seen-in-area-he-calls-home-neighbours-1.1198184" target="_blank">a bungalow in the tiny village of Westmeath</a>, but neighbours claim that nobody lives there year-round and that it is basically a cottage.
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